The NRL360 desk witnessed a passionate debate between some of the game’s best-known journalists following the $20,000 fine for Penrith coach Ivan Cleary.
After his side won their eighth straight game on Saturday, Cleary made a remark that landed him in hot water.
Despite a comfortable win over the Raiders, Cleary suggested that the officials had attempted to give Canberra a leg-up.
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“I don’t know, it felt like they were being managed back into the game … that’s all I can say,” he said.
“There were some really, really strange calls but I guess it gave us the opportunity to continue throughout the 80 minutes which we had to and in the end that will only serve us well down the track.”
WATCH CLEARY’S POST-MATCH PRESS CONFERENCE BELOW
The comments earned a rebuke from ARL comission chairman Peter V’landys who described them as “deplorable”.
And it prompted a passionate debate on NRL360 between Daily Telegraph journalists Phil “Buzz” Rothfield and Paul Kent along with Fox League’s James Hooper.
Ben Ikin was the man in the middle…
WATCH THE NRL 360 DEBATE BELOW
FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW
Kent: I can see both sides of it. I wouldn’t say deliberately that they managed the Raiders back into the game which is what Ivan said. I think subconsciously it does happen in the game, there’s an in-built mechanism. It hasn’t happened this year, but in past years referees have been graded after each game. And within that it’s regarded that a close penalty count is good refereeing, whereas a lopsided penalty count was regarded as poor refereeing. Now that doesn’t account for the fact that some teams are more disciplined than others. I think in the past, there’s some, I don’t want to say square ups, but a little bit of closing the gap and I think Ivan was caught in that trap.
Hooper: I disagree Kenty, I think you’re heading into dangerous territory when you start suggesting match officials are stage managing results and penalty counts. Maybe it happened ten years ago or further back than that, but there’s no way it’s going on in this day and age. Ivan is kidding himself. He’s going to challenge this?
Buzz: Do you think it was despicable and deplorable?
Hooper: I do.
Buzz: I think it was inappropriate what he said. But it wasn’t one of those where he got worked up in the dressing room and said: I’m going to go risk a fine. It wasn’t a planned attack. It’s not his plan, if you want my opinion I would’ve been happy with the $20,000 fine but I would’ve suspended half of it. And I will repeat this. If they’re going to fine Wayne Bennett $20,000 for breaching biosecurity and putting the comp at risk and then say this is a wake-up call, how can you say this is deplorable and despicable?
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Hooper: I think Ivan Cleary is walking into a gun fight with a pocket knife to challenge this. He questioned their integrity. It doesn’t matter if you rant and rave, throw bottles and spit saliva everywhere like Ricky Stuart has at times and been heavily sanctioned as a result. He questioned the integrity of the match officials, Buzz.
Kent: He shouldn’t have said what he said, but I don’t think Ivan is completely wrong here. I think the $20,000 is over the top especially when you compare it to a bloke who put the competition at risk, they’ve both been fined the same amount.
Buzz: Guys can I bring you back to what the story was on Saturday night. It wasn’t Ivan Cleary blowing up, it was Penrith’s eight straight. Comments from people that this was one of the finest 40 minutes of football we’ve ever seen. It wasn’t the headline, Ivan’s rant.
Hooper: But that doesn’t make it any less relevant. He said it in a press conference. The fact the Panthers have won eight in a row, they’re flying, yet he has a loose carry at a press conference where he wades into very dangerous territory and now he’s fined and he’s appealing it. But when you go through all the incidents, do you really feel they’re cause for outrage? Were they that bad the decisions?
Kent: Let me ask you this, if in the past the referees are marked in their post-match performance like the players are. And part of that grading of how well a performance they have given is the penalty count. This was happening last year.
Hooper: Are they doing it now? It’s not relevant if they’re not doing it now, Kenty
Kent: How do you know they’re not?
Hooper: I’m asking you, do you know the answer?
Kent: No my point is this, if it’s happening subconsciously it could still be happening. It happened for the last five years ago under a different administration.
Go: You can subconsciously manage a team back into the game?
Kent: No you can!
Go: Manage a team? You can’t award penalties on purpose to get a team back in the game by accident.
Hooper: 100 per cent
Buzz: But there have been square ups over the years and I heard you say on radio that there was a code word they use.
Hooper: That was years ago.
Buzz: How do you know it was years ago.
Hooper: I remember the story at the time, I think Steve Mascord wrote it that shows how long ago it was. There is no way that the referees are stage-managing teams back into games. What have you blokes been doing before we came in here?
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Kent: I think you’ve got this backwards, I don’t think they’re trying to go: Oh, they’re struggling the Raiders, I’m going to try get them back into the game. I think they sit there and are worried about criticism from a 9-2 penalty count, so they think if I can get it to 9-7 then I won’t get criticism from either coach because 9-7 looks better. But on the back of the 9-7, 9-2 penalty count – and I’m just making these numbers up – the Raiders come home and score a couple of late tries and narrow the gap and that’s what the coaches are talking about.
Hooper: Did the referees have anything to do with Liam Martin rushing in when Nathan Cleary had made a tackle on Jordan Rapana and going in when the tackle was complete and adding to the fact he went over the sideline?
Buzz: What about when Jordan Rapana attacked as a third man on Josh Mansour? Penalty?
Hooper: Well it was a set restart.
Buzz: But should it have been a penalty? You know it should’ve been?
Go: Are you suggesting they didn’t give that penalty because they’re managing the Raiders back into the game. Because they can get it wrong.
Buzz: You know when I blow up with coaches putting on a stink like Ivan did the other night. I blow up when they lose a tight game and they’re dirty. He didn’t use the word cheat, guys.
Go: I think though, that’s forgivable if you’re on the wrong end of a scoreboard.
Buzz: So you’re happy to call someone a cheat?
Go: No, I’m saying its understandable.
Kent: Maybe it makes it more honest than calculating given the fact there’s no agenda because they’ve won the game.
Go: Do we agree that questioning the integrity the NRL need to take a zero-tolerance policy
Kent: 100 per cent.
Hooper: Yeah, it’s completely off tap. You cant do it.
Go: Do we think Ivan Cleary questioned the integrity of the match officials?
Kent: Yes we did.
Hooper: Yes, absolutely.
Go: Last question, well what’s a zero-tolerance policy then if you’re not going to fine a coach for questioning the integrity of the match official?
Buzz: Like everything there should be a grading in fines.
Kent: Ben, I’m not saying he did the right thing. I’m saying what he was saying was correct. It doesn’t mean its right.
Buzz: And it doesn’t mean it was despicable and deplorable.
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